13 Things To Do in California With Kids

Updated On October 8, 2023

When California joined the union in 1850, there wasn’t much going on.

Other than mining towns, and some frontier settlements, Cali was pretty desolate.

Fast forward to today, The Golden State has a population of over 39 million people and is a leader in several industries.

It’s become one of the most innovative states, leading the way for the film industry, technology, computers, skateboarding, blue jeans, and even the Fortune Cookie.

The state is rife with gorgeous wave-clapped beaches, so it’s no wonder the state sport is surfing.

California is the almond capital of the world, and they produce more avocados than any other state.

But it’s not all white sand and water, there’s a diverse mix of mountains, deserts, valleys, lakes, and forests too.

So when planning a vacation to California, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Kids will especially love this land of sun and stars with these great activities tailored just for them.

13 Things To Do In California With Kids

Disneyland - Anaheim, California
Disneyland – Anaheim, California

1. Disneyland – Anaheim, California

It should go without saying that a trip to California’s Magic Kingdom is a must for any visitor.

Disneyland theme park is a truly amazing experience for all ages.

From the thrilling rides, the zoo, daily fireworks, parades, strolling characters, and daily shows, you may need to spend more than one day.

You’ll need to take a ride on the railroad, paddle some canoes, visit the haunted mansion, and take a jungle cruise as well.

There are places to eat all around the park and plenty of shops to grab a souvenir.

The San Diego Zoo - San Diego, California
The San Diego Zoo – San Diego, California

2. The San Diego Zoo – San Diego, California

Located inside historic Balboa Park, The San Diego Zoo is a great day trip for kids of all ages.

Opened in 1923, the zoo houses over 13,000 animals on its 100 acres of space.

You can visit koalas, polar bears, Komodo dragons, baboons, big cats, and many more rare species.

The zoo also houses over 700,000 exotic plants.

Every dollar spent at the zoo goes towards the care and conservation of the animals.

Kids can take part in activities and youth programs designed to educate them about endangered species and the environment.

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Monterey, California
Monterey Bay Aquarium – Monterey, California

3. Monterey Bay Aquarium – Monterey, California

Set on the beautiful Monterey waterfront, you can view sea otters, whales, and seabirds from the ocean view deck all before setting foot inside the aquarium.

Once inside, you can visit over 35,000 animals including abalones, penguins, anemones, ghost shrimp, squid, coral, barracudas, and halibut.

There’s also a fascinating kelp forest.

Stop for a bite at the cafe and grab a souvenir at one of the shops.

Knott's Berry Farm - Buena Park, California
Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, California

4. Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, California

With over 100 years as a top California theme park, Knotts Berry Farm was originally a small family farm where the boysenberry was first grown.

Today, guests can visit the 169-acre park to take on thrilling rides, visit a ghost town, stroll the boardwalk, and even watch a blacksmith at work.

Let’s not forget the stagecoach rides, the Soak City water park, and flying with Snoopy.

There’s so much fun to be had, the kids won’t want to leave.

It’s also a great place for foodies, with many of Mrs. Knotts’s original recipes like fried chicken and boysenberry pie that are served.

Belmont Park - San Diego, California
Belmont Park – San Diego, California

5. Belmont Park – San Diego, California

If you’re looking for good old-fashioned boardwalk fun, right on the beach, Belmont Park is a must.

Located on Mission Beach, this park opened in 1925 with the exciting Big Dipper rollercoaster and the world’s first saltwater pool as its anchor attractions.

Today, those historical attractions remain along with an array of other rides and attractions like arcades, laser tag, zip lining, rock climbing, games of chance, and so much more.

There’s live entertainment and plenty of places to eat.

Admission is free, you just pay for what you want to do.

When you need to cook off, the refreshing waters of the ocean are just steps away.

Kids will beg to come back.

Yosemite National Park - San Francisco, California
Yosemite National Park – San Francisco, California

6. Yosemite National Park – San Francisco, California

Protected by the federal government since 1854, Yosemite is a beautiful place for camping in California.

Known for its waterfalls and rock formations, this 1200-square-mile park is perfect for families to spend time together enjoying nature.

You can enjoy hiking, guided tours, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, rock climbing, and rafting.

Univeral Studios - Burbank, California
Universal Studios – Burbank, California

7. Univeral Studios – Burbank, California

If you want the ultimate movie experience, filled with thrilling rides and live-action stunts and adventure, Universal Studios is a must.

Take the iconic trolley tour and watch car chases, and explosions, have up-close and personal encounters with dinosaurs, and even King Kong.

Take a tour of a real movie studio and backlots where television shows and movies are filmed.

Then take to the rides where your hair will stand on end.

Visit themed areas like Hollywood, Harry Potter, and Water World.

Watch live shows, and dine on top-quality cuisine.

A single day may not be enough, so you can book a stay at the world-famous Universal Resort.

Whale Watching Tour - San Diego, California
Whale Watching Tour – San Diego, California

8. Whale Watching Tour – San Diego, California

Hop aboard The Legacy for an exciting 3-hour whale-watching tour.

The knowledgeable captain will point out areas of interest along the way.

You may also see some dolphins, seabirds, and sea lions.

The family-owned boat is 80 feet long and has 2 decks with seating for over 100 people.

There are also 3 bathrooms and a fully loaded snack bar.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk - Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Boardwalk – Santa Cruz, California

9. Santa Cruz Boardwalk – Santa Cruz, California

One of the best seaside boardwalks in the country, Santa Cruz, opened in 1907.

Two of the oldest rides, the Loof carousel (1911) and the Giant Dipper roller coaster (1924) are still operational today.

The whole family can enjoy various thrill rides, Neptune’s Kingdom, midway games, arcade games, mini-golf, and laser tag.

Then go under the boardwalk for a spooky experience full of surprises.

Kids can get tattoos and their faces painted.

Listen to live music and attend free movies on the beach.

Stop at the Coca-Cola hut to sample sodas only they have.

Then go to eat at one of the many restaurants, and choose from seafood, pizza, BBQ, tacos, and more.

Great Wolf Lodge - Garden Grove, California
Great Wolf Lodge – Garden Grove, California

10. Great Wolf Lodge – Garden Grove, California

Opened in 2016, this indoor water park and themed hotel has everything you need to have water park fun all year round, no matter what the weather.

With 6-story water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, and many other water attractions, kids will be constantly on the go.

There’s also a bowling alley, kid spa, and arcade.

Stay over in one of the lodge’s themed rooms, which include cabins and tents for the kids.

Crystal Cove State Park - Laguna Beach, California
Crystal Cove State Park – Laguna Beach, California

11. Crystal Cove State Park – Laguna Beach, California

Four beautiful beaches with natural dunes, cliffs, and seagrasses make up this unique state park.

Go swimming or kayaking in the crystal clear blue waters.

Visit the tide pools and experience sea creatures up close.

Go hiking and visit several historical buildings and areas.

Watch the wildlife which includes seabirds, reptiles, and sea otters.

Camp in a tent or RV right on the edge of the beach.

Calico Ghost Town - Calico, California
Calico Ghost Town – Calico, California

12. Calico Ghost Town – Calico, California

This old west mining town was founded in 1881 and was abandoned by the mid-1890s, becoming a ghost town.

In 1959 it was restored and today is part of the national park system.

Visitors can travel through time and explore the Maggie mine that once produced silver.

Take a ride on the railroad, pan for gold, and visit the Mystery Shack for some amazing feats and sights.

There’s also a schoolhouse and a ghost tour.

Eat like a frontier miner at the Calico House, which serves stews, pot pies, and meatloaf.

Not to worry, they have burgers and pizza too.

Top off your meal at the sweet shop or the popcorn wagon.

La Brea Tar Pits - Los Angeles, California
La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, California

13. La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, California

Step back in time and visit pre-historical creatures right in the heart of Los Angeles.

The La Brea Tar Pits are known the world over for their bubbling asphalt.

But it’s what lies beneath that is the intriguing part.

With over 100 excavations since the 1950s, the museum’s archaeological team has uncovered over 50,000 fossils of ancient animals, plant life, and insects.

When you’re done at the pits, head indoors to examine the many artifacts and visit the 3D theater.

The tar pits are open daily from 9:30 AM until 5:00 PM.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some tips for visiting California?

Dress in layers, especially if you’re traveling around the state.

While Southern California is toasty and bright, other areas can have temperatures that dip into the 50s.

Take plenty of sun protection.

Book campsites in advance.

Know where and how to get help when hiking, and never go alone.

When is the best time to visit California?

Many visitors say that September and October are the best times for a trip.

The water at the beaches is still warm, but desert areas are much cooler for sightseeing.

What should we pack?

Layers and laidback are the official dress of California.

Even upscale restaurants are pretty casual compared to the rest of the country.

Definitely bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and some flip-flops.

It’s also a good idea to bring body lotion.

That California sun can quickly turn you into a California raisin.

What are a few of the must-see cities?

San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara should definitely be stops along your trip.

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